A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1982


Monday, November 1, 1982

8 PM on a dreary, rainy day. Even I am ready for some bright sunny South Florida weather right now.

Last night I slept wonderfully and woke up refreshed at 7 AM, I’m sure the change to standard time is making it easier for me to get up early.

At school today, I didn’t really feel like teaching and so I coasted through the day, keeping each class no more than half an hour.

I also coasted through a Nautilus workout; I just didn’t seem to have much energy today, although I didn’t feel depressed or ill. I haven’t taken a sick day yet, although I’ll be taking 1½ days next week when I go to Winthrop College for the writers’ conference.

I haven’t yet started getting nervous about the trip to South Carolina because I’ve told myself I won’t think about it till the weekend. Oddly, I don’t think I’m afraid to fly anymore. In fact, while I’m up in the air, I feel freer than I usually do.

Part of it is because of my usual fear: I’m able to think about little else and confront myself sharply. Perhaps all my anxiety attacks, those daily bouts with nausea and panic that lasted from 1966 to 1969 and then gradually subsided – perhaps that’s what they were all about: self-definition.

I can’t help being proud of overcoming agoraphobia and my emotional problems. It was November 1966 when I had my first bad attack, first consulted a psychiatrist, and felt a despair that I’d never known. I see now that I was only 15 years old, basically a child, when I was in eleventh grade.

I’ve blocked out so much of those high school years and my year in the house; there are times when I wish I could conjure it all up – to write about it, I guess. Oh well.

Crad sent me a letter that said he enjoyed Eating at Arby’s and felt the Herald article “took just the right tone…it was almost as if the reporter was helping you to embarrass the arts council.”

His trip to Calgary was a triumph; not only did he sleep well at Bill Kinsella’s house, but he also wowed them at the reading, sold every single book he’d come with, and did a radio interview with the CBC. Good work, Crad!

Getting back home was a letdown, since Torontonians aren’t as open to street bookselling as Calgarians. Sometimes in the morning he goes out with a chip on his shoulder, and he resents having to be out on the street all winter.

Some people might call Crad lazy, but can you imagine any writer who works harder? Could anyone else stand out on Yonge Street or Bloor Street all day throughout a Canadian winter because he believed in his works that much?

The rejections Crad’s gotten will toughen him and make him a much better writer; I have absolutely no doubt that he’ll be famous someday.

Yesterday I called Justin, who was working on a short story. He’s nervous awaiting word whether Karen and her friend will produce his play Bindings and how the film director whom Clive and Davina got for Bliss will like his treatment of Carey’s novel.

Justin invited me to stay with him when I come for my book publication party and said he’d be on the lookout for a sublease for me for May.

Lola Szladits was quoted in the Times today, in an article on Virginia Woolf, whose early drafts of novels were more radical, lesbian and feminist than the final versions.

Tomorrow’s the election, and predictions are for slight Democratic gains: 15 to 20 seats in the House, 1 or 2 in the Senate, 5 or 6 governorships.

I wish they could take control of the Senate and send Reagan a message, but I’ll be satisfied if the predictions are accurate.

God, I love politics and creative people.

Tuesday, November 2, 1982

But things don’t always go our way, and I had more insomnia: it was 4 AM before I began to drift off. Instead of sleeping, I spent most of the night tossing and turning, turning on the TV, and turning the pages of The Aquarian Conspiracy.

Tomorrow’s going to be one heck of a day: not only are Wednesdays usually killers, but I also have the noon reading at the Video Festival (I heard Steve Eliot talking about it – and me – last night on WLRN), plus I have to go to the bank, plus I’d like to go for a workout.

Oh well, I’ll make the best of it.

Tonight’s election will only be a disappointment anyway – no big anti-Reagan trends are likely to develop – and I’ll try to shut off the TV by 11:30 PM.

If I have to, I’ll skip Bodyworks until Thursday; despite my blah workout yesterday, I feel more charley horse than I’ve felt in weeks.

An hour ago, I got a call from Morry Alter, Channel 10’s human interest reporter; he asked me to send him a copy of Arby’s and said it sounded “like it would make a good sitcom.”

It would be perfect to get on the TV news, but I had hoped that nothing big would happen until I return from South Carolina. Well, probably nothing will come of it anyway.

Kevin sent a review Rick did of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog for Bogg; it’s filled with praise, so much so that I’m embarrassed to quote it – but I do intend to savor the nice words about the book.

As I wrote Crad, we do have to stand back and appreciate all the little triumphs because one day they’ll add up and we’ll find we’re successful.

I got the new International Directory of Little Magazines and some gay books I ordered, but I haven’t had time to read them.

At the college today, I didn’t do any schoolwork at all – I’ve become very, very lazy.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed had the ad for the permanent full-time BCC English Department openings, and Lisa said she applied for one of the positions.

Like me, she’ll be teaching Term III-B, and she suggested we drive up to New York together in May so we can both save money. A good idea.

For III-B, I’ll be teaching two sections of 102: one at night (Mondays, Wednesdays and the famous alternate Fridays) and one at 11 AM every day – which is better than the 8 AM section I had last summer.

Mick lent me his MLA Job List, which I squinted through. This afternoon I typed up a dozen or so cover letters and sent them, along with résumés, to various English Department chairmen.

This year I’m being selective in my applications and am sticking to the East and the Sun Belt; I’m not applying in the depressed Midwest, where I’d be miserable.

I feel a lot of nervous tension now. I did stomach exercises but I can’t seem to calm down; perhaps some Triavil will help. My feet and hands are ice-cold but the rest of me is sweaty. Stress.

I’ll go out for fast food to bring back and then I’ll get into bed and watch my vote show up on Dan Rather’s numbers.

Thursday, November 4, 1982

4 PM. Again, I was unable to sleep last night, as my mind kept whirring – mostly with unwanted thoughts about BCC.

I had a good evening creative writing class and felt energetic enough to keep them until 10 PM, but back at home, I just couldn’t fall asleep. I felt almost exhilarated for having gotten through the day. The Video Festival reading and everything went so well.

Anyway, it was nearly 4 AM before I fell into a light, unsatisfying sleep, and I was up less than four hours later.

I went to BCC for a requisite couple of hours, but I didn’t do any work – but I’ve got to get started on P’an Ku already.

I suppose I’m pretty nervous about next week’s writing conference; I’ll be able to work better once I get back from Winthrop College.

Tom unexpectedly took me up on my offer to stand aside in favor of someone else to guest-teach at NOCCA, but that’s for the best. I felt I’d be stale this year, and I don’t need the expense of another trip – nor do I want to have to take more days off in the spring term. Still, I will miss not being in New Orleans again.

Rosemary Jones sent me a clipping from Henry Kinney’s column in the Shoreline section of the Fort Lauderdale News that mentioned Arby’s. When I called the office to thank her for Henry’s article, Lista Foster told me Rosemary wasn’t in but would relay the message.

While I had her on the phone, I also thanked Lista for ordering five copies of Arby’s.

She said she thought the book was great and said that at last week’s meeting of the Council for Florida Libraries, they passed around the book and Sloan Wilson (The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit) read aloud from it. I would have paid cash money to see that!

Greta wrote Tom that what George Garrett said about Malamud is true, that he runs the department at Bennington like a tyrant, and that everyone hates him. When he read the first chapters of God’s Grace last spring, the students booed him.

It looks as though all our literature courses – and my creative writing class – will not make next term since no one is registering for them. Dr. Grasso asked us to try to “sell” them to our students, but I figure I’ll have to pick another 102 or 100 class.

Mom and Marc took my car to the flea market today, so I had the little Pontiac. I read the papers, ruined a lunch of spaghetti when it all slipped into soapy water, and tried to sleep at home but just couldn’t.

It’s been weeks since I’ve spoken to Josh, Alice or Teresa. Few of my friends bothered to comment on Eating at Arby’s. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent out so many copies.

It’s also been a long time since I’ve heard from Sean. Is he mad at me? Does he think I’m mad at him? I’ll write him today.

All the temporary English instructors at Central Campus but me have applied for the permanent jobs at BCC – or so Dr. Grasso says. Tomorrow she, Phyllis and Rosa go to Gainesville to mark CLAST exams.

I feel I’m wasting today, but I’ve been pretty busy this week. I need to catch up with all my work. Right now I feel like one of my English 100 students: I can’t think of anything else to write.

Friday, November 5, 1982

5 PM. It’s a chilly, rainy day. I’m lying in bed, listening to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” fantasizing about the future – in particular, about getting back to graduate school and fiction writing.

Today I got a brochure from the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, which has a Ph.D. program in creative writing that sounds ideal: flexible classes, good faculty, nice location.

True, I wanted to avoid the Midwest, but if there’s any good city left there, it’s Chicago. The fact that I don’t know anyone there is almost an incentive rather than a drawback.

Two years ago, just after John Lennon was killed, his “Starting Over” was on radios all the time – and I took the song as my theme in moving to Florida. I’ve done well here, but I’d like to “start over” again rather than rest on my laurels.

Today Karen Green, my creative writing student, said I’m too blasé about the publication of Arby’s, which she wants to review in The Phoenix. “If I were you,” Karen said, “I’d be jumping up and down.” All the time? I have enough trouble sleeping as it is.

What I want to do is not jump but write. (Now another theme song, from the summer of ’81 – “The Greatest American Hero” theme – is playing on Love 94 FM).

Teresa called last night to tell me all about Cuomo’s victory. She’s “walking on air” herself: “If anyone had told me this summer that on election night, I’d be sitting in the Cuomo family suite of the Sheraton Centre with Governor Carey, Governor-elect Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor-elect DelBello, I’d have though they were crazy.”

Teresa said she’s learned so much about politics in the last few months. She’s now free of Sharon and feels she has little to worry about because Denny Farrell told Sharon to stop spreading rumors about Teresa; also, since Frank has now gone back to Andrew Stein’s office, he’s no longer a problem for her.

Today Teresa was going to approach the Cuomo press secretary about a job in the administration.

She’s in love with a just-married man who was Al DelBello’s campaign manager. Right now she’s got money coming in from the house in the Berkshires and other investments, but she has to get a job soon. (The unemployment rate is 10.4% as of today.)

Teresa and Maria Cuomo may come to Florida in a couple of weeks for a vacation; she’d have the use of her great-aunt’s condo in Palm-Aire as well as her car.

Of course, Deirdre wants Teresa to come to California, but Teresa feels that the Bay Area right now is “just too far away psychologically.”

If nothing else comes up, Teresa says I can stay in her friend’s bedroom when I come to New York in May. The woman lives near Teresa and occasionally likes to make extra money by having boarders.

I had thought I might stay at Barbara’s downstairs, since she’s always at Stewart Klein’s, but they’re getting married so Barbara’s giving up the place.

Last night I slept okay but not terrifically. About school, the less said, the better. I told one student to “shut the fuck up,” I was so pissed off. I taught comma rules. It got progressively darker and colder all day.

When I got home, I didn’t really feel like going to Bodyworks, but I’m glad I forced myself to head out there and work out, for I felt good afterwards. Besides, I’ll have a forced layoff from workouts next week when I go to South Carolina.

Today I got application forms to apply for MacDowell; I’ll have to get a manuscript together. It’s too late for a May application, so I’ll apply for next fall – just in case I need a place to go. But I’m not worried.

Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel just surprised me with a phone call, God love them.

Saturday, November 6, 1982

9 PM. I had a pretty good class this morning. We had to go to another building while our usual building was closed, and I was unable to get into my office and get the papers I needed to mark for Monday.

So this will be a free weekend with no grading – I suppose I can live with it.

I expect my usual Saturday-night insomnia tonight, but I’m prepared.

I’ve been on the phone a great deal since Grandpa Herb’s call last night. At about 9 PM, Mikey phoned. He and the other legal aid attorneys have been on strike for the past two weeks.

It’s about caseload and other problems, but legally they can strike only for salary. Anyway, he’s been picketing every day and making do with the money the strike fund provides.

Mikey asked me if I’d be in for Christmas, since Amy plans to make him a 30th birthday party; I’d like to meet her, for I think she’s the woman Mikey will finally settle down with.

He said that he’d probably give Teresa a call; maybe Governor-elect Cuomo, who’s supported the strikers, can use his influence to help them.

Kevin called early this afternoon. His advance paperbound copies of Snow World arrived, and they’ve been sent off to science fiction magazines and trade publications.

Like me, Kevin is drowning in schoolwork, and he, too, has been frustrated with some of his classes.

It looks like he’s going to be let go from Maryland, and even if he takes three courses at George Washington and two at Southeastern in the fall, he won’t be making all that much – and he loses the Maryland-sponsored health insurance.

Kevin sounded a little glum, so I told him he could ship me $500 worth of copies of Dog in lieu of the money he owes me. Why not?

Since the New York Book Fair is in May this year, I suggested we take a table for White Ewe Press; during the fair, I could help Kevin and also maybe Zephyr Press, Paycock Press and Grinning Idiot.

Apparently nobody’s heard from the NEA yet about the literature fellowships; Kevin hasn’t, and when I called Pete Cherches later, he asked if I had.

Pete got robbed again (they took his stereo equipment), is working hard on two proofreading jobs, and he just submitted his collection Kennedy’s Brain to Jon Baumbach at the Fiction Collective, which is once again being housed at Brooklyn College.

Just a little while ago, I called Josh. He did ask, “Who’s Sean?” after seeing the Arby’s dedication, but I told him it was “my friend down here” and we let the subject drop.

I think the friends I didn’t tell about Sean (all of them straight guys and non-writers) have figured out I’m gay, but for them it’s easier if we don’t have to deal with it directly.

Josh is very unhappy; he dreads going to his job every day. He booked two technical interviews for other jobs and would like to get out of computers altogether but doesn’t know where else to go.

He and Todd had had a pretty good day working on the car today. Todd is going to see Prof. Goodman this week to get an “objective” viewpoint on his fiction.

Josh got a letter from his German friend Willy, who’ll be living in London till April; he wants Josh to visit him, and Josh desperately wants to go. He says he has no social life, no women, and  that he stays in his apartment by himself on weekend nights.

The St. Mark’s Bookshop sold out Grinning Idiot, gave Josh a few bucks and took some more copies – and that, at least, made him feel good.

I wish to hell I could help Josh. He and Pete and Kevin and Mikey all sounded like they’ve been struggling lately. I guess I have it easy by comparison.

Monday, November 8, 1982

7 PM. I had some pleasant dreams that helped me get through the night.

This morning I stopped off at Mom’s to collect my laundry and then went to the post office, where I found more college bulletins and application forms, a postcard of the LBJ family from Miriam, and a letter from Sean.

Sean apologized for not writing but said life’s been a “bitch” lately, what with tests and term papers. He’s got a new roommate – “a very nice person named James” – and he’s also got a phone; I plan to call him before I leave for South Carolina.

My 9 AM class was a bit less crazy than usual, and the 10 AM class seemed pretty quiet until Benett and his friends started shrieking “Gay power!” and other crazy chants I couldn’t make out.

I went on with the lesson on punctuation, ignoring them except for a comment about Tourette’s syndrome victims; Robbie caught my eye and smiled. Later, I told him I’d see him in the play he’s acting in.

I feel my judgment is correct in not arguing with those idiots; they’re beneath me. I know most of the class is on my side, and maybe it will give some of them pause if I continue to act with good humor and dignity.

Perhaps some will understand that being heterosexual doesn’t make one automatically superior. And, although, yes, I do feel a bit humiliated, that’s my problem: nobody else can make me ashamed.

In a way, I’m glad Benett and his friends are there, for I’ve never had such a vivid reminder that there are people in this world who are evil (banal, yes, but evil still) and who hate me for what I am – gay and Jewish.

What’s the old saying? “If you ever forget you’re a Jew, a Gentile will remind you.” The same goes for being gay. I’m not a martyr, but I feel my gay consciousness) being strengthened. (Does this sound stupid?)

I miss teaching black, Hispanic and older white students in New York. They were so much more mature than the obnoxious young suburban white kids down here.

I answered half a dozen ads from the AWP Job List during my break between classes.

Yesterday, Lisa said yesterday she realized she had become “a schoolteacher” – something she never wanted to be. Nor did I. Even Patrick said I’m definitely right not to want to be back at BCC next year.

Dr. Grasso reported that most students, whether from the universities or community colleges, failed the CLAST essay miserably. She said the scores were so dismal they may not be released, though she now realizes that BCC can’t finish much worse than any other school.

I found her description of the marathon holistic grading sessions interesting, but since I’m not going to be around after the summer, it’s rather – shall we say? – academic to me now.

I had a decent 1 PM 101 class on cause-and-effect and told the class they should go to the library on Wednesday; I figure maybe I can sneak in a Nautilus session before my flight if I leave campus early.

Dad is going to drive me to the airport; my flight leaves at 4:30 PM, I get to Atlanta at 6 PM or so, and an hour later I get on another flight which should land in Charlotte at about 8 PM. That night I’ll probably stay at a motel near the airport.

The writers’ conference doesn’t begin until late Thursday afternoon. Of course, I’m nervous, but it’s a good kind of nervous.

I still have 70 illiterate paragraphs to grade, but I think I’ll save them all for tomorrow.